India is now actively discussing the possible sale of the indigenously developed Akash surface-to-air missile systems in Vietnam, even as the two countries steadily crank up their bilateral military ties with a watchful eye on a confrontational China in the Asia-Pacific region.
With Beijing continues to thwart New Delhi’s bid to join the 480 nation Nuclear Suppliers Group and get Jaish-e-Muhammed Chief Masood Azhar designated a terrorist by the UN, while also stepping up its naval forays into the Indian Ocean Region, India is responding by fast-tracking military ties with countries in China’s own backyard. The expanding “strategic and military partnership” with Japan and Vietnam, in particular, has emerged a major thrust area.
Sources say the discussions under way with Vietnam on the Akash area defense missiles, which have an interception range of 25-km against hostile aircraft, helicopters and drones, come after India earlier offered BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles and Varunastra anti-submarine torpedoes to the country.
Defense minister Manohar Parrikar says Vietnam “is a close friend” and several initiatives are in progress to further boost bilateral defense cooperation, ranging from help in upgrade of military equipment of the Vietnamese forces to training them on fighters and submarines.
Vietnam has shown “deep interest” in the acquisition of Akash missiles, asking for transfer of technology and joint production of the air defense system. India, however, thinks it has to be an incremental process, with an initial off-the-shelf purchase followed by transfer of technology in maintenance and other areas.
It’s relatively easy on the Akash front since the missile system is 96% indigenous, but it will be more complicated to sell the 290-km range BrahMos- or transfer technology- to Vietnam because the missiles are produced here under a joint Indo-Russian venture.The BrahMos missile still has an import content of over 60% from Russia.
On other fronts, however, India is fast expanding its military training, technology sharing, joint exercises, visits and exchange of experts with Vietnam. Faced with a belligerent China, Vietnam too has been strengthening its military capabilities by inducting Kilo-class submarines and Sukhoi fighters from Russia, both of which have been operated by Indian armed forces for years.